by Audra Ames, GFWC Florida Director's Aide
Celebrating May Mann Jennings - Mother of Florida Forestry (1872-1963)
May Mann Jennings was born in 1872 in New Jersey. Her family moved to Jacksonville, Florida while she was an infant. In 1873, the Mann family moved to Hernando County, Florida where her father Austin Mann pursued business and political interests, serving three terms as a state senator and as a leader of the national Farmer’s Alliance. In 1891 May Mann married William Sherman Jennings. A Hernando County judge, William Jennings served in the state legislature and one term as governor (1901–1904) and the couple had one child. In 1905 they moved to Springfield, a suburb of Jacksonville, where they made their primary home. May Jennings expended considerable political acumen and energy on behalf of various civic and social causes. She chaired the Jacksonville Woman’s Club’s civic and public health committees, served as chair of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s state old trail and roads committee, served as president of the Springfield Improvement Association, and chaired committees that aided Jacksonville’s Children’s Home Society, Daniel Memorial Orphanage, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Young Women’s Christian Association. From 1914 to 1917 Jennings served as president of the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, the state’s largest women’s organization with more than ten thousand members at the time. As leader, she promoted the establishment of local libraries, parks, and public sanitation and beautification projects. She led the fight to modernize the state’s reform schools and to create a humane juvenile justice system. In addition, the federation lobbied to secure compulsory education, child labor, and food and drug laws. She convinced the Federation to join in the fight for women's suffrage, and also under her leadership, the federation acquired land near Homestead, where it established Royal Palm Park (1916), the state’s first privately funded and operated public park. Royal Palm became the forerunner and nucleus of Everglades National Park (1947). From 1917 to 1936 while Jennings chaired the federation’s conservation committee, few projects or causes relating to the environment escaped her involvement. In 1919, she co-founded the Florida Forestry Association, and from the 1920s until her death she worked to save state historic and wildlife sites. As a founding member of the Florida Audubon Society, she was a lifelong advocate of the state’s pelicans and other shore birds. From 1927 to 1961 she chaired the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s statewide beautification committee and during those same years she headed the Duval County Highway Beautification Association. May Mann Jennings was one of Florida’s original suffragists and conservationists, and we are proud to call her a GFWC Florida Federation sister!
(Information taken from American National Biography website)